- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 26, 2019

A stalker shot and killed her husband in a so-called gun-free zone. Now Nikki Goeser is worried that another gun control measure widely gaining popularity will result in other firearms owners being victimized.

Ms. Goeser recently headed to Congress to speak out against red-flag laws, arguing that allowing a judge to issue orders to temporarily confiscate firearms over mental health concerns could have jeopardized her safety at a time when she was most vulnerable.

“I’m trying to educate people about the dangers of red-flag laws,” Ms. Goeser told The Washington Times. “A lot of people seem to be for them, but there’s a lot that the everyday citizen doesn’t think about. I think red-flag laws completely ignore due process and violate due process rights.”

After her husband, Ben Goeser, was murdered 10 years ago in a Tennessee restaurant, Ms. Goeser fell into a depression, wondering how she would face another day, and “you can understand how someone might misinterpret that.”

“I wasn’t suicidal. I was just going through a really hard time,” she said. “But someone very well-meaning — a family member, a friend, a co-worker — could say, ‘We’re really concerned about Nikki. This horrible thing has happened, we know she’s a gun owner,’ and then take their concerns to a judge.”

If a judge had ordered police to take away her firearm, deeming her a risk to herself or others, “for someone like me, that would have been trauma on top of trauma.”

“Here I’m scared to death, I’m already concerned for my safety, and then to go and take my basic human right of self-defense away from me with no due process?” she said. “It’s pretty scary.”

Sine her husband’s death in 2009, Ms. Goeser has become a vocal Second Amendment advocate, working with John Lott Jr. at the Crime Prevention Research Center and writing two books. Her latest, “Stalked and Defenseless: How Gun Control Helped My Stalker Murder My Husband in Front of Me,” was released in November.

Ms. Goeser was a concealed-carry permit holder and owned a handgun, but she left it in her car in compliance with Tennessee’s gun-free zone laws, which banned firearms in restaurants that serve alcohol. A man she barely knew who had been stalking her shot and killed her husband in the middle of the busy establishment.

“My husband and I owned a mobile karaoke business, and he [the stalker] started taking an interest in me that went a little too far, and he was just one of these guys who couldn’t take no for an answer,” said Ms. Goeser. “I didn’t even know this guy’s last name. He was just a customer who came to sing.”

After her husband’s death, Tennessee passed a law loosening its gun-free zone requirements.

“In Tennessee now, as long as you have your handgun carry permit and you are not drinking any alcohol, you can now carry in restaurants that serve alcohol,” she said. “They are still allowed to post a sign saying, ‘No guns allowed’ if that business owner chooses to, but at least it’s no longer state law.”

Her battle isn’t over. “We need to get rid of a lot of these gun-free zones,” she said.

“If businesses are not going to actively do something very real to help protect people, then let people protect themselves,” said Ms. Goeser. “If these places where bad guys can simply walk right in off the street and bring any kind of tool in to harm people, and there’s no security, let people protect themselves.”

‘Twisted love letters’

At a time when lawmakers on both sides of the aisle are championing criminal-justice reform, Ms. Goeser has gone against the grain, promoting the rights of victims and pushing for criminals to complete their sentences.

Even though the stalker, Hank Wise, was convicted in 2012 of second-degree murder and sentenced to 23 years in prison, he has shaved several years off for good behavior. He’s scheduled to be released in October 2028, when he will be about 60.

“This guy is earning early release and good behavior credits. It’s very disturbing,” Ms. Goeser said. “Why mislead victims on sentencing? I think we need truth-in-sentencing laws all across this nation.”

Now 43, Ms. Goeser recently found out that her husband’s killer has been writing “twisted love letters” to her from prison and sending them to the lawyer who handled her wrongful-death lawsuit against him.

“It is very scary. I am terrified and I’m furious,” said Ms. Goeser. “At first was upset with Tennessee prison system — how can a convicted murderer be allowed to write victim? — but the more I thought about it, I thought, you know, if those letters never left the prison walls, I would never know about this continued threat. And I believe women need to know.”

Supporters of red-flag laws cite a nationwide study showing that 42% of mass shooters from 2009-16 exhibited “dangerous warning signs before the shooting,” while access to firearms “triples the risk of death by suicide,” according to Everytown for Gun Safety.

“These laws are proven effective,” said Everytown in a March statement. “In Connecticut, the increased enforcement of its Red Flag law was associated with a 14 percent reduction in the state’s firearm suicide rate. Ten years after passing a Red Flag law in Indiana, the state’s firearm suicide rate decreased by 7.5 percent.”

At the same time, a December 2018 study led by Mr. Lott concluded that such laws have had no impact on murders, mass shootings or suicides.

Most of the 2020 Democratic presidential candidates support a federal red-flag law, and even President Trump has expressed support for extreme-risk protective orders, although he has reportedly cooled in the idea.

A red-flag bill introduced in February by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, California Democrat, would offer incentives for states to authorize judges to issue short-term extreme risk protection orders, but Ms. Goeser hopes her story will cause members of Congress to reconsider such measures.

“Right now I’m just trying to educate them. A lot of people, they don’t think about these things,” she said. “You tell them a personal story and how it could impact you, and a light bulb goes off: ‘Oh, I never thought about that.’”

• Valerie Richardson can be reached at vrichardson@washingtontimes.com.

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